June 20, 2008
Ive made a point of not watching TV reality shows, but a recent episode of 30 Days was an exception. As associate editor/Web editor Lisa Barley noted in her June 16 blog post, 30 Days varies from most reality series in that it isnt about humiliating people, but about what its like to live a lifestyle different from your own.
As Lisa also noted, I met the vegan Karpel family featured in the episode while on a VT-sponsored Taste of Health cruise last spring. I was traveling alone and got the family to adopt me. The Karpels are just the kind of family youd belong to if you could: Theyre warm, generous, lovingand especially for those of us who are veg, theyre not constantly asking if youre getting enough protein.
I was relieved to learn, in a conversation with Madeleine (Mom) Karpel about the show, that their scenes werent staged or manipulated, as happens in most unscripted series. From personal experience I can attest to the Karpels knack for putting you at ease when youre with them. Even given the initial culture shock set up by 30 Days, I wasnt all that surprised to see George Snedeker, the hunter staying with the family, so relaxed in their company. It makes me smile when I think about the experience, Madeleine said. We made a friend. They continue to talk on the phone, Madeleine told me, and spoke together after watching the episode on opposite coasts: the Karpels in California and Snedeker in North Carolina.
I wouldve liked to have seen more of the Karpel family in the episode, but they stayed mostly in the background. That was just fine with Madeleine. She said that when her daughter Melissa, PETAs campaign strategist, first talked to her about the family participating in the series, she was reluctant: I thought, its so not me, I wouldnt feel comfortable. But all Melissa had to say was, Mom, its about the animals.
In fact, the airtime devoted to animals was what gave the show its emotional wallop. Snedekers seeing firsthand the abandoning of pets at shelters and the casual cruelty toward animals on a factory farm was a revelation. Its not possible to witness what I witnessed and not be affected, he said on camera. I do believe animals have rights. They dont deserve to suffer or be abused. As Melissa said to me regarding what felt unique about the show, its not often that TV viewers get to see inside the livestock industry. Footage of Snedeker taking part in the rescue of a calf left to die at dairy farm and then helping restore the calf to health at Animal Acres, a farm animal sanctuary, was the heart and soul of the show.
Its true that Snedeker still hunts deer. And he hasnt gone veg, despite doctor visits during the 30 days indicating his cholesterol levels dropped while eating vegan meals with the Karpelssequences that ended up on the cutting room floor. But as the episode progressed, Snedekers awkwardness at PETA actions evolved into genuine conviction. I am a bit of an animal activist, he said in the shows final segment.
I actually took Snedekers side once early on in the episode. Animal Acres director Lorri Bauston expressed surprise that if he had to choose, Snedeker would save a human who was a stranger to him over one of his pet dogs. Ive got to agree with Snedeker on this one. After all, as the episode showed, a stranger can, in a matter of days, become a friend.